Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Bryn Mawr, Montgomery County
Former United States Senator and writer Harris Wofford was president of Bryn Mawr College.
Born on April 9, 1926, Wofford has been busy promoting social service in America. He was instrumental in starting the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps. Wofford helped to enact much legislation for these organization during his brief stint as U.S. senator from 1991 to 1994. Wofford also had a lot of political experience as a special assistant to President Kennedy and a legal advisor to Martin Luther King Jr. Besides his work in service, Wofford is a published author along with his wife, Clare. Together they wrote India Afire, and Wofford wrote Of Kennedy and Kings by himself. The book is his most widely known work because it chronicles much of the civil rights struggle during the 1960s.
Harris Wofford was born in New York City on April, 9 1926, son of Harris Llewellyn and Estelle. He grew up a model student and in his early life showed signs of a future political career. As a student at the University of Chicago, he earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree. Here, Wofford formed a group called the Student Federalists. The organization was formed as a response to the world government that was expected to take hold after World War II. Wofford’s intellect and global awareness were quite apparent even as a young student. Through the Student Federalists he met Clare Lindgren whom he eventually married in 1948. Together they had three children, two sons and a daughter. Clare supported him to a great degree and even assisted him in his later work as a civil rights activist. He also has four grandsons today.
Wofford went on to attend Yale University and Howard University where he earned his law degree. His first job after graduating was, of course, a government job. In 1954, he became a legal assistant for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. This job was his first taste of the civil rights movement with which he would become heavily involved later on in his career. Wofford’s first serious civil rights job was about as intensive as one could be. He became the coordinator of President Kennedy’s Civil Rights campaign during the 1960 elections. With this job he forged lasting friendships with such notable figures as Coretta Scott King. After Kennedy’s successful campaign, Wofford was honored with the position of special assistant to the president and the presiding chairman on a sub-cabinet committee for civil rights. Wofford’s legal expertise played a large role for the appointment. Also important to Kennedy was Wofford’s friendship with Martin Luther King Jr. and his position as an unofficial advisor to him. Kennedy was president during perhaps the most civil unrest in American history, and so Harris Wofford played a large part in expanding the rights of American minorities. Moreover, Kennedy’s administration stressed and witnessed a large increase in civil service for Americans. He was responsible for the Peace Corps and other programs in which Wofford played a large part in as well.
President Kennedy is widely regarded for his hand in starting the Peace Corps despite political uncertainty of its success. What’s not as well-known is Harris Wofford’s great assistance in starting this organization in 1961 and his many contributions to the organization. His most notable contribution was the overseeing of the African portion of the program. He is highly regarded for his role as head of the Ethiopian effort. It is the Peace Corps’ largest project to date. He eventually held the position of Associate Director of the Peace Corps during President Johnson’s Administration from 1962 to 1966. His great role in creating citizen service groups didn’t stop with this important organization. He also worked closely with President Clinton to pass legislation that eventually led to the creation of Americorps. This was much later, in 1994, when Wofford became passionate about civil service for one’s country. Americorps is a much larger organization, employing about 40,000 volunteers. It is also, as the name suggests, a domestic organization with an aim to improve American life through education, healthcare, and many other means. Besides Americorps, Wofford got support for legislation that allowed him to put forth organizations such as the Alliance for Youth and Youth Service America later on in his career. None of his goals for improving civil service would be possible without his position as U.S. Senator beginning in 1991.
Wofford was given the opportunity to run for senator after John Heinz III died and Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey appointed Wofford to fill out the remainder of Heinz’s term. Wofford, a Democrat, faced off against Dick Thornburgh who was the Attorney General at the time. Thornburgh was expected to win and many were surprised when Wofford ended up on top. The key to his success was the great campaign run by James Carville and Paul Begala. The campaign was especially significant because it was the same one used to much avail in electing Clinton as president the next year. They focused on economic issues and health care to get their man in office. Unfortunately, Wofford only served four years as a U.S. Senator when the Republican Rick Santorum beat him late in 1994. Still, Wofford made his mark in civil service. He was nearly selected as Clinton’s running mate for vice president during the 1992 election.
Among Wofford’s greatest achievement are those he contributed to academia. Wofford is the author of several works, including his most widely read book, Of Kennedys and Kings. This book chronicled the Kennedy administration and his time as advisor to Martin Luther King Jr. Also included is a very inside look at Wofford’s time as a special assistant to President Kennedy. The book is filled with conversations he had with many people who played a big part in the Kennedy administration. It gives the reader an interesting look at the civil rights movement through the eyes of the legal advisor who helped the president with many civil rights cases. However, it is very one-sided and glorifies the Kennedy administration in nearly all cases when it comes to civil rights. The book does discuss his surprisingly important role in some civil rights benchmarks. For example, he was instrumental in releasing Martin Luther King from the Alabama jail that he was so wrongfully incarcerated in. In terms of helping King, he also served as a trustee to the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social change in Atlanta, Georgia. Wofford was a close friend of King’s wife, Coretta, and she trusted him wholly for legal advice. Interestingly, he speaks of the role that Gandhi had in his decisions with them. These are probably mostly from his time in India where he wrote India Afire with his wife Clare. This book talks about his travels to India and what he learned about civil rights there. Mostly he talks about how nonviolence should be applied to the civil rights movement in America. Wofford also published influential articles in numerous scholarly journals and magazines. These outline his view on civil service and how is should be applied to America today.
Besides his books and articles, Wofford gravitated towards university work as a student, professor, and president of two colleges. Wofford first attended the University of Chicago before attending both Howard and Yale University Law schools. At Yale he earned his Bachelor of Law and at Howard he received a Juris Doctor. Wofford earned honorary degrees from Tufts University, Wake Forest University, and King’s College as well. He went on to teach law as an associate professor at Notre Dame Law School. Finally, he was president of the State University of New York at Old Westbury from 1966 to 1970 and of Bryn Mawr College from 1970 to 1978. Wofford lived in Bryn Mawr for over 30 years, but he also had an office in Philadelphia where he did much of his work. The Philadelphia office allowed him to work more closely with Gov. Bob Casey. It also allowed his wife, Clare, to work as an education administrator at the University or Pennsylvania. She was active there until her death in 1996.
Wofford’s career has allowed him to win a handful of awards. Among the most prominent of these awards was the 2003 National Leadership Award from the National Center for Leadership. He also received the 2002 John W. Gardner Leadership award, for “an individual working in the voluntary sector who has advanced the common good by building, mobilizing, and unifying people, institutions, or causes.” Perhaps a greater testament to his life work is the Harris Wofford Award that was named after him. The Harris Wofford Award is presented by Youth of America and America’s Promise to honor one of America’s greatest public servants.
Harris Wofford currently resides in Washington, DC. He still commits his life to serving the public. Currently he is the co-chairman of America’s Promise, an organization founded by Colin Powell that is intended to raise the values of America’s youth.
It’s Up to Us: Federal World Government in Our Time. New York: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1946.
Road to the World Republic: Policy and Strategy for Federalists. Chicago: Federalist Press, 1948.
Lohia and America Meet. 1951. Reprint. Dehli: BRPC, 2001.
India Afire. (with Clare Wofford) New York: J. Day Co., 1951.
Embers of the World: Conversations with Scott Buchanan. Santa Barbara: Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, 1970.
Of Kennedys and Kings: Making Sense of the Sixties. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1992.
“The Democratic Challenge.” Foreign Policy 86 (Spring 1992): 99-113.
“Cracking the atom of Civic Power.” Nation Civic Review 94.2 (Summer 2005): 19-22.
“Nomination: Hearing of the Committee on Labor and Human Resources?on Harris Wofford?to be chief executive officer of the Sorporation for National and Community Service.” Committee on Labor and Human Resources. U.S.: G.P.O., 1995.